State Democratic party chairman tours the U.P.

HOUGHTON – Michigan’s Democratic Party has fared well in the top federal elections, winning the vote in the last six presidential elections and six Senate races.

But that hasn’t translated into success in off-year elections, particularly in 2010, when Republicans took over positions ranging from governor to the 1st District U.S. House of Representatives seat.

State Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson is looking to change that. He visited Houghton Wednesday as part of a tour of the Upper Peninsula.

Johnson said to win, they will have to show voters how Democrats can create a northern Michigan they can stay and succeed in, and also show them how they will invest in and protect their resources – from the residents to the Great Lakes.

Another key part will be boosting turnout; close to 1 million Democrats did not vote in 2010, Johnson said.

“We have to put the mechanics and the message in place to make sure that voters turn out all throughout the U.P. and northern Michigan,” he said.

But it starts with good candidates, Johnson said. He is optimistic about the slate being fielded by the Democrats.

In the 1st Congressional District, Jerry Cannon of Fife Lake is looking to unseat two-term Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls. Johnson cited his tenure as Kalkaska County sheriff and a military career where he became a two-star general in the Michigan National Guard and served in Vietnam and Iraq.

“We need to go and show how Jerry is going to go to Washington and not be a part of the partisan divide that we’re seeing now that just isn’t working,” Johnson said. “It’s not working for anyone, let alone not working for northern Michigan, and Congressman Benishek’s part of it. I think the people of northern Michigan see that, and they’re open to a candidate like Jerry.”

Longtime Democratic Senator U.S. Sen. Carl Levin is retiring. The Democrats are looking to retain the post with U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, who represents the 14th District. Johnson touted Peters’ track record, including financial reforms and helping to rescue the auto industry after the 2008 crash.

“He stood up and believed in the Michigan auto industry and worked every day with the White House and other members of Congress, regardless of party, to get that done,” Johnson said. “That’s the kind of senator we need. That’s the kind of senator Michigan is used to in Senator Levin and Senator Stabenow.”

Johnson also backed Mark Schauer, a former state senator and U.S. representative from Battle Creek who is running against Gov. Rick Snyder.

“We have a candidate in him, a candidate who’s been fighting for Michigan, and has a track record of investing in education and protecting the middle class and helping to create jobs,” he said.

As for state races, Johnson praised the work State Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, has done in Lansing, such as his work to repeal the pension tax and to make investments in education. Johnson contrasted Democratic priorities with those of Republicans, saying Snyder’s $1.8 billion business tax cut had still left Michigan as the state with the fourth-highest unemployment rate.

“That $1.8 billion that was taken from our money, that we paid for? Where’s that money? Is it in northern Michigan? That money’s in New York, it’s in Chicago, it’s in the Cayman Islands, it’s everywhere but in northern Michigan creating jobs,” he said. “And that’s the fight that Scott Dianda’s down there leading in Lansing, is getting investments back into northern Michigan through roads, through better education.”

If Democrats regain power, Johnson said, the top priority will be reinvesting in public education, which he said Republicans have de-emphasized to support for-profit schools. Second will be repealing the pension tax.

“We have seniors now that have retired on a fixed income that are paying anywhere from $1,500 to $2,300 in pension tax,” he said. “That’s money they didn’t save for. They didn’t know they were going to get hit by that.”